Europe

Distressed mortgages in Ireland: The human toll

In his recent address to the nation in the wake of the ending of the EU-IMF bailout the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, suggested that in future banks should stop dragging the economy down and deal with the issue of distressed mortgages. BBC NI Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison has been talking to people who are very worried about holding on to their homes.

Enda Kenny before addressing the Irish nation
Image caption Enda Kenny urged banks to deal with distressed mortgages issue

It is estimated that nearly 20% of all mortgages in the Republic of Ireland are in arrears.

That is about 200,000 cases and it includes Caroline.

A professional, single woman in her late 30s, she is struggling to come to terms with how her life has changed.

She had mortgages on two properties, an apartment in Dublin, where she lives, and a house in Kilkenny, where she used to work.

After she lost her permanent and pensionable job in 2006 she sold her Kilkenny house at a loss of 150,000 euros (£127,000) and now her bank wants her Dublin home to make up the shortfall.

Deal

"Mentally, it's extremely difficult to try to deal with this sort of situation, there are tears and stress," she said,

"You don't sleep and there's sheer panic because of the banks. You don't tend to see sense."

Anna, a 58-year-old nurse, knows all about those worries.

After her 60-year-old husband, Patrick, was made redundant they borrowed 340,000 euros (£287,000) to open up a delicatessen on the east coast of Ireland using their family home as security, without, she said, thinking of the consequences.

It did not work out and now her bank wants their house.

She said: "I do work and I want to give as much as I possibly can. I would be happy to look at a long-term deal.

"A good outcome for me would be to make a deal with the bank that they took the house or part of the house at some stage but I want to live there for the rest of my life."

Anna and Caroline, who do not want their full names used, got in contact with the Portlaoise-based Phoenix Project Ireland.

The organisation, which depends on donors and gets no state funding, gives free advice and help to people with mortgage difficulties.

It was set up in 2007 by William Prior, who was an estate agent at the time and who saw increasing numbers of farmers, in particular, taking their own lives.

"This organisation is here to help people; to save people from losing their family home and stopping the resulting break-up of marriages and relationships and families", he says.

Between full-time staff and volunteers the Phoenix Project has 20 people helping it.

'Take advice'

Among them is Amanda Grace, a counsellor who offers this advice to people with mortgage problems: "As long as there is inaction there will be more stress.

"So, we try to get people to own the problem, to confront it, so to, at least, level the playing field in terms of how much power you think you have over your own outcome."

Julie Sadlier, a solicitor with the Phoenix Project, offers legal advice.

"We say to people 'keep engaging, keep paying what you can'," she said.

Image caption People are being urged to seek help and advice before surrendering keys

"And don't surrender your keys under any circumstances, unless you really don't care about the property and the shortfall, without taking advice.

"Unfortunately, people don't have money to pay for advice but we're here and we're free and we'll keep trying to fit people in as much as we can."

Recent figures suggest that for every home repossession in the Republic of Ireland there are 13 in Northern Ireland.

But Caroline, who faces such a threat, said she hoped she would never have to take out a mortgage again because she does not trust the banks and financial institutions.

Priorities

"If I'd known that the banks were in such a dreadful financial state, if I'd known what was going on at Anglo, if I'd known the government was on the point of collapse I'd never have taken out a bank loan," she said.

"But I'm sure I speak for every citizen who took out a mortgage at that particular time."

The banks said they do not comment on individual cases like those of Anna and Caroline and that they are trying to deal with the issue of distressed mortgages by offering, where possible, sustainable longer-term resolutions.

But Anna says those with mortgage difficulties need to get their priorities right.

"People are so worried that they are giving every single penny to the bank and they can't afford to feed their children", she said.

"I say, feed your children and not the banks. Your family has to come first".

As the country emerges from its EU-IMF bailout the prime minister, Enda Kenny, recently made clear he is very much aware that old problems like the banks and distressed mortgages have not gone away.